Friday, July 24, 2009

What Makes Change happen?

John Samuel

Only two things can change the World: Ideas and people’. Imaginative ideas and Inspired people together can make change happen in the world.

All other things are peripheral. Money or wealth or weapons can not change the world in the long run. If you have inspired people and imaginative ideas- everything else will follow.

You cannot kill an Idea; you can only challenge an idea. The moment you put an idea, it’s like a seed, it will come up in different forms. So you can challenge Marx, but you cannot kill Marxism, as an idea. Savarkar proposed Hindutva- you can not kill that idea; one can only challenge it. Ideas are more dangerous than anything else. Mussolini was more scared about the ideas of Antonio Gramsci. So Mussolini said: ‘his mind should stop working’. Mussolini said, ‘jailing him won’t help, his mind is more dangerous than his body’. Gramsci’s, Prison Notebooks are one of the best books in influencing social change and transforming power-relations.

Ideas are the most powerful weapons in the world. But, ideas become active, when people live with it and live to propel it, translate it and use those ideas as means to transform the society and world. Young people with ideas and ideals are the force, which can change the World. Ideas and Ideals create creative imagination. The best of the Dil( heart), Dimaag(mind) and Dum( Dynamism) are in and among the young people.

Every moment of life, you have to live and feel the life . Living is an art of feeling, thinking and doing- making a difference wherever you are. Living is also an art of unleashing your imagination and creativity – magic of discovering the world within you and around you.
Every human being does eat, shit and procreate, and life seems so simple!! That makes Life into such a monotonous routine of existence , without creative impulse or transformative potential.

Experience is very important. One should be able to feel, touch and smell with a sense of passion and intensity. Experience is one of the biggest sources of learning and inspiration. But the tragedy is that one is not even often aware about one’s own experience in a life of routine- devoid of the sense of curiosity and wonder. Skills and tools can be helpful. But a motivated and inspired person can learn any skill and develop appropriate tools.

What is the difference between human beings and animals? Human beings have creativity, community and ability to communicate. Human beings can have communion as well- a sense of sharing values, ethics, collective memory- a sense of belonging to each other- beyond the individual self. The creative and power instincts of human being propel us to give birth as well to kill, to create as well as to destroy, to imagine as well as to impose. How do we move beyond such basic human instincts to create and destroy to that of a transformative being: someone who can have self-awareness about her/his being, and generate creative work by realizing the belief and values through action and becoming a new being- sensitive and sensible to a larger world beyond one-self , our institutions and our immediate interests.

Human beings have vanities about power, they are full of vanities and these vanities of power are often built within the social system.

Ideas give rise to imagination and Imagination can propel new ideas. Courage of conviction in those ideas and ability to inspire , initiate and nurture young people , the rest will happen.

Knowledge is power. But Imagination is more important than knowledge. Imagination is the impulse to creativity. Human Creativity and Conviction are what make change happen. They together make the will act. They are the moving force behind history. All other things like wealth, weapons etc are mere enabling factors. Remember Confucius, Vedas, Buddha, Jesus, Prophet Mohammed, Newton, Marx, Einstein, or Gandhi influenced world more than the great warrior kings or the richest people.

As young people, you should dare to dream! You have to learn to dream about the society and you. You have to imagine that you can change the world. You need to nurture your critical self awareness and creative impulse. You have to believe in your ability to transform yourself and the world around you. You need to have the courage of conviction. Then, you can indeed change the world!

Making change happen is the most exciting thing in the world- a proof our living, a sign of our creative impulse, a responsibility to go beyond yourselves , to touch, feel and smell the world- to be an agent of transformation. Why not?

Our society is in full of contradictions, the society is yet very feudal, the power structure is still problematic based on caste, religion, and language. In the world of NGO’s also, who are the people who call the shots ? They are Urban, Upper Class, Upper Caste, and English speaking people . They come from elite institutions and privileged background. For many of them , NGOs are a more relaxed way of working , a bit of an alternative style, and a bit of do-good impulse; not necessarily means to challenge the status quo or transform the world. More often, it is the same class of people who take the leadership in top bureaucracy, corporate sector and NGO.

There is less opportunities and choices for rural youth, particularly women – with out adequate skills in English or the enabling kind of exposure. While many of the English speaking privileged class encourage the rural people and less privileged one’s to speak in local languages or Hindi, they unwittingly foreclose the possibility of further exposure or learning to such people. So often, those who speak or write Hindi ends up in a small organization or work at the district level and those who have access to language, knowledge and exposure end up leading the more privileged urban NGOs or INGOs.

Somehow there is indeed a language connotation to our power structure- that emerged out of the colonial process. It is also because of the diversity of India. English is the only connecting language across the middle class of India. So while it is good to know Tamil and Hindi, without communication skills in English, you may end up having less advantage. Hence , I used to insist every one to learn to write and speak in English. You need to go beyond your comfort zone to learn new things and new skills.

It is also important to truly respect diversity and pluralism wherever you are. It is equally important to stand up and speak out for those who are less privileged in a given situation. I tried to do that whenever there was an opportunity. Now Actionaid has an affirmative recruitment policy in many countries. Few years ago all leaders came from upper cast and upper class and majority religion. Now we have many senior leaders from dalit , tribal and minority back ground. We have more women in leadership. Unless we challenge ourselves, we can not change ourselves.

Perspective is another important force of change. Every one keeps interpreting the world around us with one perspective or to other. However, what you see depends on where you stand!

The mind can often end up rationalize everything as per the convenience. It can be used to rationalize Hitler or Stalin. The mind can also become very cynical. Such cynical rationalism can often be counter productive and dangerous.

Solidarity is shared sense of feeling- a sense of belonging to people and a sense of collective commitment. You can not derive sense of solidarity or courage of conviction from text books or from social theory. Unless, you feel about causes and consequence of injustice and poverty, it is difficult for one to act . Descartes wrote: 'I think therefore I am'. This is a problem Cartesian mode of thinking largely prevalent in the European world – making a distinction between mind and body, experience and reason etc .!

After spending a week in a remote village in a river island( Choar Mumtaz) in Bangladesh, I write down my experience( available on the blog: . I ended that reflection with a counter point to the Cartesian mode: “ I feel therefore I am; I think therefore I do”

We need both poetry and politics for a new wave of change. We need political imagination as well as poetry of power and passion to transform the barren landscape of our thinking and action.

We need people, passion and politics to transform the world. We need to be aware about unjust power-relations operating within ourselves, around us and beyond us. Every person is unique. Every person counts. Every person can have immense potential. How do we connect with such unique potential of everyone- touch them, feel them and move with them- weaving a sense of shared value, genuinely concerned about everyone, and making waves of creative action : a movement of inspired and passionate people can change anything in this world. Gandhi helped it happen. Martin Luther did make it happen. Che inspired us to dream and act. Neruda wrote poetry to make politics happen within and beyond us. Why can't we?

Making change happen within one's self, around us and beyond us is the most exciting thing about life. Without a sense of change- life can be a monotonous burden- of imprisoned self. Freedom can only happen from within- when we feel free to fly beyond the self. Freedom is first about Being- discovering the spaces within and then beyond to create, to bridge, to connect, to communicate and to realize one's true potential. When each of us can discover our own potential, when each of us can believe that we together can make wonders, move mountains- then we can make Change happen.

If we can not make change happen deep within, then we can make change happen beyond. And human history teaches us about those who made destructive changes and those who made generative changes. We need to understand history , to make history. We need to envision, enable , educate and empower to make change happen. We need to feel inspired and empathetic to make change happen. When we truly believe in what we do; when we are willing to listen, learn and love- change begins to unfold with in you and me.

When we feel we are a part of movement in the long march of history of the world, we begin to believe in causes much bigger than oneself, causes much bigger than our own Institutions, causes much bigger than our little positions of power, causes much bigger than our own countries; causes big enough to inspire us, challenge us and transform us. Then change begins to happen.

And when we make change happen- changes that can outlive ourselves and our generation, and our organizations, then we make history. That is something exciting. So do not get stuck in positions of "power" for the sake of it. Do not get in to the rat race. Develop a sense of awareness to have Dreams much bigger than you, and your little positions of power or your organization. Do not go after temporal power to control or to acquire. Being is often more important than " Having".

Power becomes only meaningful when it is a responsibility to be creative and transformative- the power within each of us to discover the freedom within- a power to create a sense of freedom and joy around us. And all of us have that power deep within. We need to only discover the power within us- the powerful stream that come from the depth our soul. And let us realize the power of people and imaginative ideas for a better world, a justful tomorrow and a joyful world- a safer, greener and better planet that we can pass on to the next generation- to our children and grand children. A world where people can indeed smile and feel the joy of being in and enjoying true freedom. Then, WE CAN INDEED MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN.

(This is an Excerpt from the Interaction of Interns with John Samuel at the Conference Room, National Centre for Advocacy Studies, Pune).


Shikha said...

Dear John,

It is very inspiring blog that made me dream big and trust my potentials.

Thanks for making me feel my power.


M R Rajendran Nair said...

The change from within is important,
as Power needed is power of accommodation and power ofr tolerance.
Noble minds can bring Change without pride and prejudice.

M R Rajendran Nair said...

Let me practice what is preached.

James Perumana said...

If you have ideas and not markets well your ideas will die with you.